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      Tuesday, October 8, 2013
 Volume I, Issue 52
Principal Matters!
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The Shot: A Principal Utilizes Basketball to Illustrate Differentiated Instructional Strategies


Yesterday, I had the staff meeting in the gymnasium. The teachers were bewildered as they walked in the hot gym, wearing their business attire: dresses, high heels, suits, dress shoes, and all. The teachers were divided into four teams, and I told them each person had to attempt to make a free throw before they could leave the meeting. Many were startled because they had never even touched a basketball.  Others were never taught how to make a free throw, and they did not know the proper mechanics to even begin the attempt. After a few minutes of frustration and embarrassment, and only 5 out of 80 successful attempts, I told the staff to assemble in the air-conditioned auditorium for the conclusion of the meeting.

The first question I asked the teachers was how did they feel when it was their turn to attempt the free throw? Many answered: afraid, mortified, unprepared, lost, and confused. Some stated they did not want to try, wanted to try again after several missed attempts, and felt overwhelmed by the monumental task. At this time, I reminded the teachers that this is exactly how a child feels in their classroom when they are introduced to an unfamiliar standard, given a task they do not have the prerequisite skills to achieve, or asked to read aloud in class. At this point, you could hear a pin drop. I reminded teachers that their lessons should be designed to reach all level of learners. I asked them to remember the type of players they had on their teams as they plan their lessons.


According to the teachers, there were three types of 

players on every team: 1) there were some teachers who didn't know how to shoot at all. We have to provided more intense remediation for these players (show them the basics and progress with a great deal of patience and compassion); 2) there were teachers who knew how to shoot, but the distance was too far (we have to meet these players where they are and provide additional practice to move them to the next level);  and 3) we had players who already knew how to shoot and were pretty efficient, but simply needed more shots to be successful (these are the players with the background knowledge, understanding of concepts, and skills to achieve the task).  It is tempting to let the more efficient players stand by while we help the ones who need more help, but they too need to be pushed to reach the next level. 


I reminded the teachers to remember that all of our students are not born in that third tier.  They will walk into their classrooms at different levels, and they must be ready to meet the needs of them all. Additionally, I reminded them to remember their experience when it was their time to take the shot. You see for our kids their education is their only SHOT, with it it's still a long SHOT, but without it they have no SHOT at all.

To all educators, please remember the SHOT!


Dr. Marcus Jackson is the Principal of Kendrick Middle School in Jonesboro, GA. You can reach him at,


Thank you to Marcus for sharing this inspiring story.  Principal Matters! wants to share your best practices and inspiring ideas as well. Please send submissions to

Columbus State  
  Week in GASSP
This Week in the GASSP!  
Highlights from your state association!  


Know an outstanding Georgia Civics Teacher? Honor them! Civic Educator of the Year Awards   GCCE



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NASSP Conference: Ignite '14  


Plan now to join your colleagues in Dallas, TX, February 6-8, 2014, for a professional learning experience devoted to helping principals and assistant principals meet the unique challenges of leading middle level and high schools. Building on the success of last year's redesigned NASSP conference, look for structure and content that invites participation and interaction with speakers and peers. Topics will include CCSS, college and career readiness, teacher recruitment and development, culture and climate enhancement, plus more. 



Click for Full Flyer





Teach All the Time with Screen Casts at Screenr


DO you ever have students that miss your class?  Parents who would like some clarity as they help their children with material?  How about a free, easy tool to capture your classroom instruction and "screencast" it for others to watch later?  This is a great, great tool for your teachers, and for you as an administrator to share big ideas as well.

Screenr One Minute Tour
Screenr One Minute Tour

This is week eight of a series of awesome web tools for your teachers to use.  To review, we've already shared the following tools:;;; Google Forms;; and and remind101.    Be a hero for your teachers and share these powerful, free tools they can use.  All practical, all tested by teachers.  ~MW for PM!




It's a matter of fact: We don't always listen to the most fact-filled person in the room. We don't opt for the opinion of the expert when we're in meetings. Instead, we defer to the loudest person in the room--which will be great for their ego, but awful for our decisions.


Why? New research from the University of Utah and Idaho State University helps us to see why we follow the loudmouth. According to a Wall Street Journal blog:


People tend to rely too much on "messy proxies for expertise"--such as a speaker's confidence level, extroversion, gender and/or race--and not enough on the content of his or her contributions, when making judgments about expertise, says Mr. Bonner, (the study's lead author). Doing so can be costly if the group doesn't heed those with the most relevant knowledge, Mr. Bonner says.


We tend to guess at who the expert is, Bonner says, though confidence doesn't necessarily correlate with expertise. And the conversation domination creates the biggest issues when you're trying to sort out a particular answer, like how many products you'll ship next week.

So what to do about it?



We've spent some time contemplating meeting malfeasance at Fast Company. Here are a few of our solutions:


  • Recognize that meetings get off track for many reasons. Find out why.
  • Don't brainstorm, "brain-write." Start the meeting with everybody writing down their ideas without talking to anyone first--then you'll avoid the constraining effects of groupthink.
  • Invest in (creative) solitude. Kellogg management professor and Creative Conspiracy author Leigh Thompson has an idea for productive, well-communicated isolation:   Let the independent start the day in her cave, free of email, drop-in meetings, and other subtle suckers of productivity. Then have everybody assemble around the campfire at a regular hour--like maybe around lunchtime.


This is from Drake Baer at Fast Company.  He is a favorite of Principal Matters! and studies how people work.  You can read more of his thoughts at : 

Thinking Maps    

Carol Ann Tomlinson 

Why Differentiation?  Look At Students in A Classroom


In education circles, Carol Ann Tomlinson is known as the guru of differentiation. Her research-based work is in such high demand that she has made more than 700 presentations and keynote addresses to school districts and professional associations across the country and abroad since joining the Curry School in 1991. She has authored 17 books on the topics of differentiated instruction and curriculum, some of which have been translated into twelve languages.


In this Curry conversation, Tomlinson offers her take on what makes differentiation so important for students.


What is the essence of differentiation?

Tomlinson: Differentiation is an instructional approach to help teachers teach with individuals as well as content in mind. Differentiation really means trying to make sure that teaching and learning work for the full range of students, which really should be our goal as teachers. We've often taught as though all the kids in the classroom are wired exactly alike to learn, as though they should come in programmed to learn on the teacher's schedule. Really, to me, differentiation is the common sense of saying, if we take on the responsibility of teaching, we accept the responsibility of making sure that every kid learns as well as he or she possibly can.


What empirical evidence exists for the effectiveness of differentiation?

Tomlinson: The model of differentiation that I've been working with is sort of a Robin Hood model - it steals from lots of discipline areas and tries to synthesize what we know from many specialties into one specialty. Some of what we talk about in differentiation really comes from the work of special education and has been there for a long time. Some of it comes from gifted education. Some of it comes from the field of reading and how you work with students in developing literacy when they don't master the skills right on schedule. There's work that comes from the emerging and new science of the brain. And things that people have done in multicultural education.

What we've tried to do with this model is to synthesize a lot of those things so that it fits together as a whole and so the teachers don't have to go to 14 places to find guidelines and strategies they need.  The research that supports the principles and practices of differentiation comes from many specialties.


There is also newer research that suggests academic benefits to the model's key principles and practices. There's always the caveat that it's easy to say you use a model and much harder to maintain fidelity to that model. What we find, not surprisingly, is when somebody differentiates effectively, the gains are really strong. The trick is always to help people understand that you can't pick and choose pieces of a model, implement five percent of it and dismiss the other 95 percent.


What is the strongest argument for differentiation?


Tomlinson: The strongest argument for differentiation to me is looking at the kids sitting in the classroom. It's rare to go into a classroom where kids are all from the same language group, the same culture, the same socioeconomic status, the same background experience, the same wiring in terms of abilities, areas of weakness, that sort of thing. Realizing how seldom you go into a classroom and find virtually everyone fully engaged and participating in an optimistic way signals a need for instruction that addresses individual variance as well as common content requirements. We have way too many students who bring to school with them needs and differences that we just don't take into account in our thinking and planning. And we fail many learners when we do that.


Carol Ann Tomlinson is on the faculty of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.  This is an excerpt of an article by Lynn Bell that appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of Curry Magazine.  You can read the article in its entirety at this link: 

national guard

Want Boys In Your School to Do Better in Math?


What if we could make some content changes that would make boys (and girls) more interested in school?  It's no secret that success of males in school is in a steady, downward spiral.   This is a topic that we need to consider at length and depth, but for the time being, here is a TEDx  Providence talk that might give you a more immediate resource to help your students succeed.


Teaching Math Through Basketball: Khalil Fuller at TEDxProvidence 2013
Teaching Math Through Basketball: Khalil Fuller at TEDxProvidence 2013

The talk features Brown University student,  Khalil Fuller.  Khalil Fuller is the founder of NBA Math Hoops, an 

organization dedicated to improving math literacy among urban youth by creating innovative, fun, and effective educational tools that harness the power of basketball.  You can contact him on Twitter @khalil_fuller.  The website to NBA Math Hoops is here:   It's a brand new initiative, so you can get in on the ground floor.



Why not let students talk about their passion and learn math while doing so?  Seems like a winning plan.  This is a great idea that we can scale to help students across the nation. 

~MW for PM!



Visit to become inspired, informed and illuminated through the thousands of TED Talks.   TED Talksbegan as a simple attempt to share what happens at the TED Confere nce with the world. Under the moniker "ideas worth spreading," talks were released online and rapidly attracted a global audience in the millions. Indeed, the reaction was so en thusiastic that the entire TED website has been reengineered around TED Talks, with the goal of giving everyone on-demand access to the world's most inspiring voices. As of November 2012, TED Talks have been viewed more than one billion times.

Professional Reading 

Differentiation: From Planning to Practice, Grades 6-12

By Rick Wormeli


Rick Wormeli is a great friend to secondary principals everywhere.  He presented the "Middle School Viewpoint" keynote presentation at "Ignite '13" in National Harbor for NASSP and is a regular at state association events across the nation. 


In "Differentiation:  From Planning to Practice", Rick speaks directly to the ears of those who implement with clear direction on how to incorporate differentiation into daily practice in the secondary classroom.


Here's what Amazon.Com has to say:  In this refreshing addition to differentiated learning literature, Rick Wormeli takes readers step-by-step from the blank page to a fully crafted differentiation lesson. Along the way he shows middle and high school teachers and behind-the-scenes planning that goes into effective lesson design for diverse classrooms.


Rick demonstrates how to weave common and novel differentiation strategies into all subjects and offers clear advice about what to do when things don't go as expected. Based on nearly thirty years of experience as a teacher and instructional coach, Rick's thoughtful and imaginative classroom accommodations will help teachers succeed with advanced students, struggling students, English language learners, and students across the multiple intelligences spectrum.


A thorough and practice guide, Differentiation: From Planning to Practice also provides an overview of the cognitive science behind differentiation as well as a more than two-dozen tools that make differentiation doable in the classroom. This is an essential resource for all reflective teachers.


Read more about Rick and find more of his books here: 
On this date 

On This Date...

 October 8, 1871:  The Great Chicago Fire


It's Time to Tell The Truth About Mrs. O'Leary's Cow


There's no question that Principal Matters! readers are among the most knowledgeable and well-read people in our nation's populace.  Being a school administrator gives you access to a broad range of information, so, to be completely accurate, you are "in the know." 


And as we reach the anniversary of the starting of the Great Chicago Fire, you are able to say without hesitation- the cow did it.  Being a knower of history, you are very aware that hundreds died in the two-day disaster; hundreds of thousands were left homeless, and tens of thousands of buildings were completely destroyed. 


It all started, we know, because Mrs. Catherine O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern in the barn.


Except, that is a lie.  A lie that has been told enough that nearly everyone believes it.


Just like the lie of "Failing American Schools."  Did you know that in making international comparisons, the United States produces more high-performing students that any other nation?  You may have heard the other stories about how awful American schools are, but what didn't make Fox5's head story or the front page of every paper is a genuine, data-based comparison showing how American schools outperform schools in other nations.  Fordham Institute researchers Michael Petrilli and Janie Scull compared the PISA performance of the US with that of students in the  other OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) member nations.  The US produced more students at the top of the scale in reading and math.  Check out the report for yourself at or at 


It's time to tell the truth about American education.     

It's time to tell the truth about Mrs. O'Leary's cow as well.  The Chicago City Council exonerated Mrs. O'Leary (and her cow) in 1997.  Turns out the story was made up-by a reporter... who wanted to sell papers.  And THAT'S the truth.


May Bessie now rest in peace.

~MW for PM!


Sources:  NASSP News Leader, October 2013; Vol. 61, Number 2;  History Channel, This Day in History: